Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals For Delicious Living is the memoir of Nick Offerman, best known for his role as Ron Swanson in the NBC sitcom Parks And Recreation. It is essentially his autobiography with some meditations on various subjects, such as organized religion, weed, woodworking, romantic love, making it in show business, etc.
And as Offerman is a generally funny dude, it is a generally funny book. But for some reason, I wasn’t in love with it. Weirdly, it reads almost more Ron-Swansony than Ron Swanson’s own autobiography would read. Let me explain.
Ron Swanson is, without a doubt, one of my favorite TV characters of all time. He prides himself on individual freedom, his skill in woodworking and his love of fine whiskey. As head of Pawnee Parks and Recreation, he strives to make his department as inefficient as possible, keeping the taxpayers money from funding “pointless” government projects.
This makes for an absolutely hilarious television character. A television character. If I met a real Ron Swanson, almost guaranteed I’d be annoyed by him. And Offerman writes like Ron Swanson Version 100.0. A 22 minute episode of Parks & Rec is a perfect amount of Ron, but a whole book is just too much for me.
Here is one sentence from the book:
That color purple was ruined for me-I was later a big fan of Prince, but his greatest album unfortunately gave me visions less redolent of Apollonia’s beauty and more suited to the abattoir.
I had to look up both “redolent” and “abattoir” in the dictionary. I’m certainly not complaining about uncommon vocabulary, but really it’s the manner in which Offerman writes. I can’t honestly believe this dude talks like this all day. The book is filled with metaphors and similes galore and flowery language. Remember when you were in grade school and to punch up your paper, you’d grab the thesaurus and find some cool synonyms to use? Offerman writes like he is doing that in every paragraph, but he’s grabbing synonyms that I’ve never even heard of. The dude either has an incredibly extensive vocabulary or the largest thesaurus ever.
And he’s also got a fairly big chip on his shoulder towards modern American Christianity. He does his best to disguise it as not a chip by saying things like he’s fine certain concepts behind organized religious Christianity (like gathering together in a community once a week, Jesus’ teachings that basically say “don’t be an asshole,” etc. Offerman’s words, not mine.) but all the parts that serve to demonize and condemn anyone who holds a different view than our own are awful and terrible and should be utterly done away with.
Now if we’re honest, of course that’s a great sentiment. It is terrible when Christians condemn women walking into Planned Parenthood clinics, or lambast a liberal president for essentially anything he does, or actively work to keep homosexuals from serving their country, or denounce the teaching of sex education in our high schools. But our society has this cyclical thing going on, where one group shouts for what they believe and denounce the rest, and then people not in that group shout against the first group, and each group just keeps shouting to get themselves heard. It makes for discourse that is just too loud to be functional.
And Offerman’s sentiments about Christianity seem a little heavy-handed. If he had kept his denouncement to maybe one chapter, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. I found myself annoyed I was giving it a second thought after basically agreeing with the majority of his views the first time around.
So that’s all the stuff I didn’t like. There was a lot of great stuff too.
From what I can tell through interviews and his book and the general sense they are trying to portray in their media appearances, Offerman and his wife Megan Mullaly (Karen from Will And Grace, Tammy 2 from Parks & Rec) seem to have a wonderfully loving and functional relationship. Offerman could not speak higher of her in his writing, from the mutual love and support they offer each other in their lives and careers and families. They have a rule to turn down any acting job that requires them to be apart for more than 2 weeks at a time. Sure, that’s not the only mark of a perfect marriage, but in Hollywood, it’s impressive to see a couple so seemingly prepared to keep their marriage intact, even through the many hardships life can through at you.
I like Offerman’s general philosophy on life. Work hard, work 100%, so that you can enjoy your non-work time 100% as well. And in your non-work time, don’t fill it with fluffy, superfluous activities. Spend less time looking at screens. Be fulfilled by all the wonders that nature has to offer. Cultivate relationships with those around you by learning about them and engaging in activities together. Go to your local theater and support the artistic community. Make something with your hands. Don’t be awful to your neighbor. Understand the principles that make you who you are and stand up for them. Be good to others. Etc.
All good sentiments. His book reads like a progressive Midwestern farm boy who happened to find success in acting. If you don’t think you’d be put off by listening to Ron Swanson talk for three straight hours or denouncing modern-day American Christianity, you’ll probably enjoy this book. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was hoping, but it’s alright. I think I’ll just go watch “Practice Date” and all ill feelings will be put to rest.